Monday, May 7, 2012

Why do the red maple leaves look brown? Frost Damage to Spring Plants and Trees

Just a few weeks ago the heated issue was the potential impact of a very warm spring on local plants and trees.  Then came a serious cold snap and the answer was apparent--it's not the warm weather that hurts, 'tis the freezing temps that may follow.  Here in the mitten we're fond of saying "If ya don't like the weather in Michigan, just wait an hour."  This time the garden did not escape unscathed. Luckily, the damage is only cosmetic. 

The red Japanese Maple looked like it had been dusted with sand.  Upon closer inspection, the top leaves had turned a pale brown due to the frigid temps of last week.  By the weekend, most of the burned leaves had fallen off.  The top canopy was hit the hardest.  The maple may need a comb-over this season. The leaves of the hydrangea have a crispy look too. 

The only serious casulaties were two small tomato plants left out in the cold.  Warm weather annuals simply can't tolerate even short bursts of cold. Impatiens and tender herbs such as sweet basil will shrivel when the thermometer hovers at freezing, even overnight. 

Short term damage to foliage is exactly that.  The core of the plant, the stems and root system remain intact and functioning.  Similar to a sunburn, but aloe doesn't help--only time.

The bad news is the damage will remain for the season, but it's minimal.  Smaller plants can be gently pruned back or the burnt leaves plucked. Next year, weather permitting, the foliage will survive unscathed.  There's always next year.  No matter the appearance, do not cut back the tree. 
The vagrancies of nature are not always predictable nor pretty.  Today it will be eighty five and sunny. 

Bundle up!

More Articles of Interest:

Will My Plants Survive this Drought?

Shrubbery Flubbery -- How to Avoid Winter Damage to Shrubs

 Hey! Look What Survived the Winter in my Garden!